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India: Demolition of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram and the continuing violence in Chhattisgarh

Observations by a peoples fact finding team

by Harsh Dobhal, Janak Lal Thakur, Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Sandeep Pandey, Sumit Chakravartty, Vijendra, 6 June 2009

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Fact-finding Team on Latest Developments in Chhattisgarh

An all-India fact-finding team visited Chhattisgarh from May 29 to June 1, 2009 in the wake of certain disturbing developments in the State plagued by Maoist violence, state terror, the Salwa Judum campaign and attacks on voluntary organisations (even Gandhian bodies) by the powers that be. The team held a press conference at the Press Club, Raipur on June 1. The following are the press release at the press conference and a memorandum on the demolition of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram at Kanwalnar near Dantewada (on May 17) submitted to the State Governor, E.S. Narasimhan, and the Superintendent of Police, Dantewada, Rahul Sharma.

The members of the fact-finding team were Magasaysay award winner social activist Dr Sandeep Pandey, Lucknow; President, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM), former MLA Janak Lal Thakur, Dalli-Rajhara; senior journalist and editor, Mainstream, Sumit Chakravartty, New Delhi; human rights lawyer and women’s rights activist, Advocate Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Mumbai; editor, Combat Law, Dr Harsh Dobhal,
New Delhi; PUCL, Chhattisgarh, Vijendra, Raipur.

The All India Fact-finding Team to study the nature of the problems faced by the people of Chhattisgarh in the context of the Maoist activities in the region and the demolition of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram by the local authorities in Kanwalnar near Dantewada on May 17, 2009, met the Governor of Chhattisgarh, E.S. Narasimhan, in Raipur on June 1, 2009. The team members submitted memorandum based on their visit to Kanwalnar, Dantewada and several interior areas of Dantewada and Bijapur districts.

The team, which did the fact finding from May 29 to May 31, met the Gandhian social activist running the VCA, Himanshu Kumar, Manish Kunjam, the former MLA of the CPI, and the SP, Dantewada, Rahul Sharma. The team visited the demolition site and spoke to various people (villagers, civil society activists, and local media persons) in Kanwalnar, Lingagiri, Basagudha, Kamaram, Bijapur and Dantewada. All of them confirmed and acclaimed the constructive work that the VCA has been doing in the region for the last 17 years. The Governor assured that he would look into the points made in the Memorandum.

On the basis of the interactions with the local community and authorities, the team members strongly suspect that the vindictive attitude shown by the authorities in demolishing the Ashram, when the issue of its encroachment was pending in the court, stemmed from the fact that the VCA’s founder had raised his voice against human rights violations in the fight against Maoists and opposed the Salwa Judum campaign.

Memorandum on Demolition of Vanvasi Chetna Ashram on May 17, 2009

  • The Vanvasi Chetna Ashram (VCA) was implementing various government schemes in the area including Mitanin health programme, watershed development, water and sanitation programme in villages and Salwa Judum camps and Himanshu Kumar was also on various government committees including district legal aid committee. It is inexplicable why an ashram run by him should have been demolished.
    • We think the government should have been grateful to him as he has been doing this constructive work in the region for the last 17 years, without any vested interest.
  • As the matter of land is subjudice the action of the demolition of the Ashram by the district administration was unwarranted.
  • The authorities’ contention that the land which was earlier agricultural land in government records was changed to revenue forest land, is unprecendented. We think that the due process was not followed in this case.
  • The VCA was engaged in the important task of resettling the internally displaced persons in their original villages which no government agency had undertaken in spite of the Supreme Court’s instruction to the Chhattisgarh Government.
  • The team spoke to various persons (villagers, civil society activists and local mediapersons) in Kanwalnar, Lingagiri, Basagudha, Kamaram, Bijapur and Dantewada. All of them confirmed and acclaimed the constructive work that the VCA has been doing in the region.
  • The resettled villagers need immediate provision of facilities like PDS, primary health, primary education and public transport. We hope the government would do the needful in this regard without delay.
  • We sincerely hope the authorities would take remedial measures at the earliest to mitigate the problems of the VCA and enable to it continue its constructive work in the area.

[The full report by the all-India fact-finding team is intended be released on June 26 in New Delhi by Dr Binayak Sen.]